NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts will tour the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis as part of a series of weekend events to honor the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.
It is the latest display of the NBA and NBPA’s stated commitment to address issues of social justice in communities across the country.
Since LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade stood onstage at the ESPYS in July 2016 and pleaded to athletes to become more active to promote more social change, ESPN has learned that the NBA, its players and teams have organized and participated in 222 programs, events and initiatives spanning 26 cities. There have been more than 40,000 new mentor signups and over 10,000 youth and law enforcement officers have been brought together in communities around the country.
“We recognize how special this weekend is for the NBA, and we recognize that Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum have an incredible story to tell, not just one about history but things that are going on right now in our world,” said Kathy Behrens, NBA president of social responsibility and player programs. “We see certainly some division [in the country today] but we also see an opportunity to have a dialogue about race and equality and the values that our game has talked about not just around MLK weekend but we have talked frankly about throughout our history.
“The values of equality, diversity, respect, teamwork, they really are the foundation of our game and our growth. So the opportunity to highlight those values, to speak out on them, to bring communities together and to not be afraid to have difficult conversations, those are all the things that our players are thinking about and doing.”
On Sunday, Silver and Roberts will join members of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Lakers, including Lakers primary owner Jeanie Buss, during a tour of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated.
The Grizzlies are hosting the weekend’s events, which include Silver and Roberts attending an “MLK50: Where Do We Go from Here?” discussion that will include Memphis’ Mike Conley, the Lakers’ Brook Lopez, retired WNBA star Swin Cash and Angela Blackwell from PolicyLink.
Prior to the Lakers-Grizzlies game on Monday night, Silver and Roberts will attend the Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium presented by the Hyde Family Foundation with James Worthy, Penny Hardaway, Cash and Sam Perkins.
Not long after the ESPY speech by the four NBA superstars, Silver and Roberts began discussions about how to increase reach and impact in communities. They also sent a letter to players offering support for their efforts to build stronger and safer communities. While Colin Kaepernick and several NFL players sparked discussion and action with their protests of racial oppression and inequality during national anthems, Silver and Roberts wanted to find ways for their players and teams to make the most impactful change possible in communities.
The NBA held events creating opportunities for youth, parents and local leaders to engage in dialogue about how to create change, created “Building Bridges Through Basketball” community tournaments and programs to break down barriers and forge trust between youth and community leaders and law enforcement and partner with organizations such as MENTOR.
In October, the Milwaukee Bucks partnered with the City of Milwaukee, Safe & Sound and Running Rebels and paired up the likes of Bucks players Malcolm Brogdon and Greg Monroe, Mayor Tom Barrett, Police Chief Ed Flynn, Milwaukee Police Department officers and 10 formerly incarcerated or system-involved youth to discuss the relationship between law enforcement and young people in Milwaukee.
Also in the same month, Golden State’s Draymond Green and David West joined the City of Oakland and RISE to host a community conversation between 45 high school aged youth, law enforcement, and local leaders on mentorship, sidelining racism, and police-community relations.
“I think our guys are going to want to continue being involved in things that have real change associated with them,” Behrens said. “That is the message we have heard from players, they want to be in a position where they can affect real change and be connected to organizations that are doing the good, hard and important work in their communities.”
“This is work that we are going to be at for a long time [in communities],” Behrens added. “Unfortunately, I wish it was not something that we had to do but I think the fight for equality, justice, inclusion, mutual respect and better understanding between cultures and people who disagree and trying to do so respectfully — this is work that our guys are going to be at for a long time. And they want to be.”